Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood

Developer – Square Enix
Publisher – Square Enix
Release Date – June 20, 2017
Platform – PC, Playstation 4

Stormblood is the second expansion of Final Fantasy XIV, better known as 14. Where the previous expansion was about the “catholic” nation of Ishgaard and its war against the dragons, Stormblood is back to basics with the Empire of Garlemald as the main villain, as it was in both XIV and A Realm Reborn. The last imperial bastion on the games continent Eorzea is the nation of Ala Mhigo, a “middle eastern” country with vast deserts, oases, rugged mountains and a vast metropolis. For twenty five years it has been ruled by the empire and now it is time to free it. But the empire is secretly working towards a super weapon they can unleash upon the heroes. If that sounds familiar it might be because its the story of A Realm Reborn, which was about pushing the imperial remains out of the free countries of Eorzea while stopping the Empire from unleashing a super weapon against the heroes.

But of course Stormblood isn’t just a rethreading of old ground. One of the big selling points is that the players finally embark on an adventure beyond the borders of Eorzea, into proper Imperial lands. Where Ala Mhigo is a mixture of different middle eastern countries, the other playable area of Doma is obviously just Japan. An island specked sea, hilly farmlands and a vast grassland is what makes up the zones of this place. Veteran players will recognize Doma as the homeland of Yugiri, the companion that joins the heroes all the way back in A Realm Reborn. So in short, the story of Stormblood is about freeing two individual nations from the Empire during the span of one campaign. But sadly, the Doma part of the campaign is over almost before it begins. It is rather clear that it was rushed to be over with so the reclamation of two nations could be a part of the base game. Where the war of Ala Mhigo spans from the last patches of Heavensward into the very end of Stormblood, Doma is an odd thing there in the middle.

It might also be because Doma doesn’t really have its own villain. It has Yotsuyu, the tyrant who rules over the small country with an iron fist, though she is not much of a fighter and thus does not have the player engage her in any meaningful way. Beyond that, she is almost like some sort of Bond villain henchman, groveling at the feet of the proper expansion villain, Zenos yae Galvus, a classic imperial like the players are used to. He is the expansions real target, and the villain in the Ala Mhigo zones, although his influence is felt in Doma.
Personally, Zenos is by far the most compelling villain of the two. He is a warrior, so the player actually has to fight him and thus he is not just an adversary in a cutscene, but a real one that can kill you during gameplay, but he is more than just a poor victim of war, which is what Yotsuyus character sadly ends up as.

Now, I did mention a secret super weapon at the start of the review, and so far, I have not mentioned it again. Just like the story of Stormblood, sadly. The story is kickstarted by the primal Shinryu who disappears together with another god like monster. But then right in the very final mission of the game they suddenly make a reemergence. It honestly feels out of the blue, but that is sadly a recurring theme in Stormbloods story. Many key parts of the story just happen to get it over with. They simply should have spent more time building the war and its villains up.
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But story isn’t everything! There are two nations each with three zones, a new capital city, dungeons and raids to play through.
Thankfully the zones are not as bad for a first timer without flying as some of the zones in Heavensward, like the churning mists, but it can still be a bit confusing to understand where you are allowed to go. Most of the zones are locked behind quest lines that might only be introduced at the very end of the expansion. But in their own right, they are all quite nice, some more than others. The final zone, the Lochs, is slightly boring outside of the city and the palace region, which is a shame. But then there are zones like the Ruby Sea which is a true treat, if you happen to like the new swimming. For where Heavensward introduced flying, Stormblood has swimming and diving. Deep waters can be explored by entering a mini zone where you can swim around in all 3 dimensions. Especially the Ruby Sea has a lot beneath the waves, though swimming is barely used beyond that. A shame as it feels as wasted potential. Flying was used rather well in Heavensward, with zones that felt almost impossible to traverse without a pair of wings. But since half of Stormblood takes place in a desert region it can’t be much of a surprise that it’s not the same here.

What about the dungeons then? If you like castles and keeps you are truly in for a wonderful expansion, for 4 out of 8 of the expansions dungeons at release was about castles. Two of them even having the same theme, storming a castle with plenty of npcs fighting in the distance, dramatic events and them being an end to each nations liberation campaign.
Especially these two imperial fortress dungeons are truly gorgeous, with some of the best fights and music in the expansion.
Since it has 3 different Japanese inspired castle dungeons, they get drowned a bit out by the sheer numbers. The first is beneath the sea, the second having an imperial theme and the last just being a classic castle, the first two being the most interesting ones.
There is also a monk temple a ship graveyard and a steppe trial. The steppe trial having a rather original puzzle boss is a clear plus.
But since the game has such a clear-cut dungeon design strategy it gets slightly repetitive. Three bosses, always, with no way to go either make a shortcut or go your own way. Merely one long hallway, although it is truly a gorgeous and fun hallway.
In the two patches since release there has been 3 dungeons added. A haunted underground ruin, a demonic volcano and a return to the floating technological laboratory where monsters are created from Heavensward.
Where dungeons are, mostly, not very original they are very well crafted, and it is clearly felt how much the team has learned from previous instances.

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Then there are the trials. In the base game there are 3 primal fights with a fourth added in 4.2.
All three boss fights are stellar, with fantastic visuals, some fun and creative mechanics, all in all truly majestic fights. The extreme versions of the fights are relatively difficult, but not as challenging as some of the previous boss fights in the game. And as always, the music for the primal fights are unique and extremely well suited for the fights. Especially the music for Sri Lakshmi, the snake goddess, is not what one is used to in such a game, yet it fits better than any rock themed piece of music would do. The newest addition to the primal roster has some rather genre bending mechanics, to make it even more memorable, so it seems that Stormbloods trials won’t fizzle out in future patches.

And now to the raids. As of writing there are two wings of the 8 man and 1 wing of the 24 man. Both are a throwback to earlier Final Fantasy, with the 24 man being called Return to Ivalice, with the first raid the City of Rabastre from Final Fantasy XII. The raid itself is beautiful, with a delve through a ruined desert city into an ancient ruin beneath. The vistas and visuals are as pretty as the game has ever been. But 24 man raids has never been the games strength, it lies in the 8 man, which here is the different digiscapes of the raids villain, the Omega Weapon. First came the Deltascape and with 4.2 came the Sigmascape. Deltascape was about bosses from Final Fantasy V with Sigmascape being about Final Fantasy VI. The bosses don’t have to adhere to any particular theme outside of what was in the original games, which means they can get rather creative with encounters. This is all done via the story of the new raid which is, honestly, more of an excuse to do a greatest hits raid.
Obviously some fights are better than others, but all feel original.
There is not much left to add now, besides commenting on the odd graphical fidelity of the two new beast tribes, the turtle Kojin and the snake Anenta. They look like they are from a completely different game than rest of the cast and of much lower quality.
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But of course, this is not all, the game did lack a new race but it added two new classes, Samurai and Red Mage. Some truly gorgeous armor sets for both, with samurai being a more popular pick as of now, due to the great amount of movement required in PvE which casters can have trouble to survive through.
Personally I have mainly played a summoner so my knowledge of both red mage and samurai is limited. I simply preferred to be a draconic themed mage.

So in short, while Stormblood did not redefine itself as anything new, it is a very well polished version of the mmo people have gotten to know. Raids, trials and dungeons being as expertly crafted as ever, zones being varied throughout their two themes, new underwater areas and a beautiful capital city. It is even more friendly than Heavensward as a player can opt to play a samurai or red mage from the start of Stormblood, which might make some people dare to get into the game who otherwise wouldn’t.
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And now with the newest patch there has been added a new area, the forbidden land of Eureka from Final Fantasy 3. Among players it’s known as Diadem 3.0, which might very well be fitting. But I’ve not really had much time to try it out, as this review was written in advance, though what little has been tried was all right. It should of course be noted I wasn’t the biggest fan of Diadem either, but if you enjoyed that, or enjoy the relic weapons, it might very well be your cup of tea.

All in all, Stormblood is a well crafted if not slightly repetitive expansion. There’s some freshness in the world being split up into two though the story is what we’ve had before. But of course, this is a game, and so the gameplay is always first and foremost, at least in this genre of games. And the content is truly exceptionally well crafted. It’s not the biggest of surprises, but an extremely well made expansion. Sadly, the current endgame content is always a rather small pool of encounters are previous raids becomes obsolete the second the new comes out. Something that almost all other mmos share.
If you enjoy a mmo where you don’t need to play every single day to keep up with the grind, Stormblood is no doubt the game for you. But with the addition of Eureka, it even got the classic mmo grind as well, if the need arises.

Score: 7/10

If just Stormblood could give me something new for my mmo addiction, it would earn a higher score. But alas, all we have now is a well crafted game with some of the best content in the genre.
Not too bad really.

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